Category Archives: Gardening

For many people growing giant vegetables is an obsession. Perhaps you’ve gone to an agricultural fair and seen the giant pumpkins that people have grown. I’ve done a lot of gardening in my life but I’ve never intentionally tried to grown giant vegetables.vegetables

 

This is not to say that I haven’t ended up with some pretty giant vegetables in my garden, mostly giant zucchinis. No matter how carefully you check under the leaves and try to pick all the zucchinis while they are small they have a tendency to stay hidden. All of a sudden you check the garden and find a very large zucchini sitting there.giant vegetables

 

Some of the large zucchinis I will chop up and make relish, zucchini cake or muffins. Occasionally they will end up in the compost pile. When we used to have chickens they would always enjoy it when I cut open a large zucchini for them to enjoy.giant vegetables

 

If you plan on saving seeds you may find yourself growing much larger than normal vegetables. For example cucumbers must be grown past maturity if you plan to save the seeds. You actually want the cucumbers to turn almost yellow before you can harvest the seeds.saving cucumber seeds

 

Other vegetables like the Gete okosomin grown quite large on their own. I was amazed at how large my friend Dave grew his squash!Gete okosomin

 

Growing giant vegetables involves having good seed, plenty of water and fertilizer and good soil in your garden. You also have to keep an eye on the various buys and animals that can attack your plants. If you pay close attention to those details you should be able to grow some giant vegetables of your own!pumpkins, fall harvest

 

If you are interested in growing extremely giant vegetables during your next growing season there are a few things to consider. Hare a few tips for you.

The Weird & Wonderful World of Giant Vegetables

Please include attribution to Sun Leisure with this graphic.

 

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Recently I read a wonderful article in our local paper called the Power of Produce or POP. What is POP? It’s a local club that sets out to provide a fun way to have children learn about the local food system in their neighborhoods, talk to local farmers and try new fruits and vegetables.Power of Produce

 

The club started in Hartland, Vermont three years ago after Carol Stedman attended a workshop at the Vermont Farmers Market Association conference. It’s the third year the club has been in existence and they now have over 70 children participating. Power of Produce originally started in May 2011 at the Oregon city Farmers Market in Oregon City, Oregon. The programs mission was three fold: to empower children to make healthy food choices, to strengthen and sustain healthy communities through supporting farmers and cultivating future farmers market supporters and to expand farmers markets from a retail location into a place where children can try new foods, and earn about healthy eating.Power of Produce

 

How does it work? In Hartland, Vermont Power of Produce encourages children ages 5-12 to make healthy food choices by offering educational activities, cooking demonstrations and food sampling. In addition each child is provided with “three POP bucks” in market currency to spend on fresh produce. This encourages the children to engage in the local food system though conversations with farmers, buying local, and understanding the importance of making healthy food choices.Power of Produce

 

Children fill out a POP passport, collect the week’s scavenger hunt list, visit the various farmers to answer the questions from the list, taste fruits and vegetables and fill out their passport to earn POP bucks. With bucks in hand they can shop at the market for fresh fruits and vegetables. Each week they also learn how to make a recipe of the day, which they can take home, and share with their families.Power of Produce

 

Power of Produce is catching on around the country. Surveys have found that children who participate influence their parents’ food purchasing choices. In addition, farmers markets that have set up POP clubs found an overall increase in sales for their vendors.

 

Have you ever heard of Power of Produce? I think it is a wonderful idea and one that should be a part of every farmers market. The more people that start making healthy food choices the healthier we’ll be as a country!Power of Produce

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A green lawn often goes hand-in-hand with the white picket fence. It’s part of the dream. It’s part of America’s culture. It’s your own little carefully-tended patch of paradise.

 

However, times are changing, with a renewed focus on sustainable living. 9 billion gallons of water per day are used to maintain lawns in the United States, according to the EPA. This makes lawn care a waste of water if you live pretty much anywhere besides Seattle.

 

The Disadvantages of the American Lawn

 

Having a lawn-based yard has other disadvantages, even if you’re not staggering through a drought. Here are some examples:

 

  • Fertilizer and pesticide use can (and has) hurt the surrounding ecosystem.
  • Gas-powered mowers are used to maintain lawns.
  • Grass takes an insane amount of water. Some estimates say that half of residential water is used to maintain the lawn.
  • Lawns occupy land that could otherwise be a habitat for native plants and animals.
  • Grass takes a lot of time and money to maintain. Americans in 2009 spent $20 billion in a year on lawn care. And some estimates state that the average American spends about 70 hours per year on lawn care.
  • The look is generic and many find it uncreative and lacking in local flavor.

 

How Did Grass become Classic?

 

Most of the species of grass we use for our yards aren’t native to North America. They’ve been transplanted from tropical islands and rainy grasslands like Scotland. Even Kentucky Bluegrass is actually native to Europe. The practice of having a lawn became popular for several reasons. For one thing, there’s the strategic use of it. Having a wide lawn bordering a fortress made it much easier to see attackers as they came. However, decorative lawns came into popular use as the gentry utilized them in landscaping decisions. It quickly became a badge of status, as only the very wealthy could afford to have an entire workforce just dedicated to maintaining a decorative crop.

 

Because it was popular among the wealthy, the middle class inevitably adopted it during the Victorian era. The philosophy and care of residential lawns gradually developed, up until the explosion of planned communities and suburbs in America during the 50’s. A lawn was a way to blend pastoral ideals with military efficiency and conformance.

 

Ready to Grow Past the Lawn?

 

If you’re over the common practice of laying down sod, and you’re ready to make your yard more sustainable, creative, and drought-resistant, take a look at these ideas for a great landscape with less lawn.

 

Pocket gardens: Pocket gardens are little sections of the yard where you have a concentrated area of plants. These sections provide more variety and more habitat for local animals than a lawn would. Pocket gardens work especially well for succulents if you’re in a desert area. It’s also great when incorporated with interesting garden pathways and differentiations in the levels of the ground.

 

Play with textures of concrete and stonework: Sure, flat concrete across the yard looks like something straight out of a gulag, but there are plenty of ways to play with concrete and stonework that look amazing. Green elements aren’t the only way to add visual interest to your yard. Get a variety of textures and elements and make it a design asset instead of an infrastructure necessity. Incorporate gravel, pebbles, slabs of concrete, and large stones in order to create design and contrast.

 

Feature the pathways: Make the pathways the feature of your yard instead of the lawn. This is a great way to make your yard look inviting, even without a soft lawn. You can feature your path by making it a beautiful statement piece of pavers, flagstones, cobblestones, or even brick. Make your pathway look less severe by allowing patches of lawn (or other groundcover) between the stones, or you can add in large potted plants along the border. Prominent pathways are also really useful if you opt for alternative groundcover that doesn’t handle foot traffic very well.

 

Got the pathways covered? Consider adding other hardscaping elements, including retaining walls, fountains, raised beds, etc. Check out these ideas for rock landscaping ideas.

 

Consider a new alternative for white space: One of the reasons that grass is such a great default for our yards is that it makes “white space” or blank space that gives our eyes places to rest, so they’re not bombarded with stimulation from every quarter. However, your yard’s “white space” doesn’t have to be green! Use stonework, concrete, gravel, and mulch instead for those spaces between features. This is a great way to embrace the modern minimal look, which is also a great way to save on decorating and home-planning. Browse “modern garden” inspiration boards for great ideas you can use on your space.

 

Grow gardens, not lawn: Covering about 2% of the continental United States, turf grass actually qualifies as the single most common irrigated crop in America. Considering that it’s a purely ornamental crop with no other benefits, this is just a ridiculous use of water. However, if there were actually something being produced by that lawn, the investment of water and maintenance would be worth it. Say, for example, you were actually growing cucumbers out there, or tomatoes, or squash.

 

Gardens can be beautifully decorative. From runner beans trailing up a fence to decorative kale, it might be time to start planting something in your yard that will fill up a salad later in the season.

 

Alternative groundcover: Grass is certainly not the only thing that can fulfill its purpose in a yard. There are other things that can cover the ground, create visual interest, and create effective divisions between other elements of your yard. Consider planting alternative grasses (which are hardier and native) as well as runners that send out horizontal vines and sometimes touch down in the soil again. Here are some examples of beautiful alternative groundcover:

 

  • Partridgeberry
  • Morinda
  • Mesa Verde ice plant
  • Creeping thyme
  • Wooly thyme
  • Sedum
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Chamomile
  • Snow-in-summer

 

Use lawn in smaller patches: There is a purpose for lawn. After all, how much of your childhood relied on a great lawn for games like tag, Simon Says, and catch? There’s something about a good lawn that lures us outside to play. In order to go greener, you don’t have to get rid of all of your lawn. Have a designated functional space that actually gets used, then treasure it! It’s worth the investment as long as you’re using it, and smart practices can still help you save on sprinkler water usage. If, on the other hand, the only time anyone in your family spends time on the lawn is to mow it, then it’s probably time to rethink your landscaping.

Despite the fact that I’ve cut back on my garden I am still growing a healthy crop of zucchini! I love zucchini and I always grow more than I need. How do I use it up? Here are a few of my favorite ways:

 

Favorite Zucchini Recipes:

 

Zucchini and Parmesan Crusted Chicken

This recipe has been adapted from a recipe I tried using HelloFresh. Although the original recipe was good I felt it needed a little something more so I added some minced garlic! Why have I never thought of topping a chicken breast with shredded zucchini? The zucchini keeps the chicken moist and tender while it is cooking. The addition of garlic and Parmesan gives a delicious flavor to the mix.Zucchini Parmesan Crusted Chicke

 

Zucchini Fettuccine Alfredo

I love using my spiralizer to create zucchini noodles. I use the noodles in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I use zucchini noodles in place of pasta when serving spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve recently been experimenting to create a Fettuccine Alfredo using zucchini noodles and a light sauce. This extra light Alfredo sauce for pasta gets its silkiness from fresh ricotta and grated Parmesan cheese. I think it’s a winner! Perfect all by itself of serve as a side dish with grilled steak.Zucchini Fettuccine

 

Corn Zucchini Salsa

I love zucchini and I always plant more than I need in my garden. As a result I am always looking for new ways to use it up! This is a new recipe for me this year! Serve this delicious salsa with tortilla chips or try it on top of grilled chicken breasts or fish. It’s got just the right amount of zip!Corn Zucchini Salsa

 

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

One of my favorite ways to use up zucchini is making a Chocolate Zucchini Cake. This recipe is especially good if you have some oversized zucchini that need to be used up. A friend of mine shared this recipe with me years ago and we’ve been enjoying it ever since.Chocolate Zucchini Cake

 

Zucchini Relish

The same friend that shared her chocolate zucchini cake recipe also gave me this wonderful relish recipe. I don’t even buy relish any more as this is the family favorite. Another wonderful way to use up zucchini! Making this relish is a two-day affair so be sure to plan accordingly.Zucchini Relish

 

 

Zucchini Quiche

A friend I worked with shared this recipe with me years ago. I have made it every summer since then and we still enjoy it! You can serve it as a complete dinner along with a salad or use it as a side dish.Zucchini Quiche

 

Turkey, Quinoa and Zucchini Meatloaf

Looking for a delicious and healthy meal? Try this delicious meatloaf recipe, it works best to make individual meatloaves.

 

Are you a zucchini lover? What is your favorite recipe?

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Have you noticed fewer bees in your garden recently? If so, then you’re not the only one. Bee populations of pretty much all kinds are in decline all over the world, and this could spell disaster for the long term health of our planet. This might sound a bit drastic, but when you consider just how important bees are to the pollination of so many plants, trees, fruits and vegetables, it could become an incredibly serious issue.

 

So what is it that’s causing our bees so much hassle? There are a few things really. Habitat destruction, disease and parasites (like the varroa mite) are three common problems, but one of the main causes of declining bee populations has been shown to be a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short.

 

Neonics are used to treat pests on crops, plants, turf, etc, but they’re also incredibly harmful to bees. The pesticides (of which there are several types) affect every part of the plant, including pollen and nectar, so when a bee comes along to visit, it also becomes effected.

 

And these neonics do not agree with bees at all. They have a dramatic effect on their homing ability, breeding, memory, foraging skills, and more, eventually leading to their death. Some types of neonics have been banned in parts of Europe and the UK, but there are still some types being used, and many countries around the world have no restrictions on them at all.

 

The following infographic from Sun Leisure delves a bit deeper into the issue of neonics, detailing what and why they’re used, how they affect bees, and what some of the alternatives might be. It also looks at just how important bees are to us and the huge effect their extinction would have on the world.

Close to where I live in Vermont is a 40-acre sanctuary, called Eshqua Bog, jointly owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and the New England Wild Flower Society.lady's slippers The New England Wild Flower society declared Eshqua Blog, “a treasure of Vermont flora.” A place with “exceptional aesthetic, educational and scientific value.” This bog has hundred’s of Showy Lady’s Slippers that bloom in the spring.lady's slippers

 

There is a wooden boardwalk that meanders through the bog, which is fully accessible for people of all ages and abilities. The boardwalk allows people to take a closer look at the wonderful plant life in the bog while protecting the bog from trampling.lady's slippers

 

The wild orchids are merely the most acclaimed wildflowers of this rich wetland. The bog and surrounding wetlands host the annual blooming of marsh marigolds, painted trillium, great white trillium, bloodroot, starflower, white turtlehead, blue-bead lily, trout lily, mayflower, blue cohosh and many other spectacular and subtle flowers.

 

The Bog is actually a fen and was protected to permanently preserve the diverse community of wetland plants like Labrador tea, cotton grass and pitcher plants. Fens are less acidic and fed by groundwater that carries important plant nutrients like calcium and magnesium from the surrounding bedrock. True bogs are typically dominated by sphagnum mosses while fens are characterized by an abundance of sedges and non-sphagnum mosses.

 

There are a number of orchids growing in the bog including the white bog orchis, green bog orchis, and yellow lady’s slippers.lady's slippers

 

In addition, hundreds of showy lady’s slippers bloom in early summer.lady's slippers

 

I have been to this bog several times but never have I seen so many Showy Lady Slippers in bloom. They were just magnificent. Known by naturalists for more than a century Eshqua Bog attracts wildflower lovers from around the nation.lady's slippers

 

If you are ever in the Woodstock, Vermont area take the time to explore this wonderful natural area. The paths are well marked and there is a small parking lot. You can explore the bog and there are also paths to enjoy the surrounding forest. If you have never seen Lady’s Slippers in the wild you are in for an amazing treat.lady's slippers

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